Cronulla Sharks 20-18 Canterbury Bulldogs: Sharks edge Bulldogs in bottom of table clash
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 21: Reimis Smith of the Bulldogs is tackled by Bryson Goodwin of the Sharks during the round six NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Canterbury Bulldogs at Bankwest Stadium on June 21, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks picked up a vital two points on Sunday evening as a Sione Katoa hat-trick helped them on their way to a narrow victory over fellow strugglers the Canterbury Bulldogs.

The result moves the Sharks up to eleventh on four points whilst the Bulldogs remain down in 15th, above the Gold Coast Titans on points difference.

Story of the match

It was a cagey, disciplined start from both sides although Cronulla had slightly the better of the Field Position during the opening ten minutes. Wade Graham went close to scoring out of dummy half but the Bulldogs stood firm in defence. More pressure was mounted by the Sharks however following poor ball control from the visitors and it eventually told. It was a high-quality try too. Katoa received a well-timed cut-out pass from Chad Townsend ten metres out from the line and the winger did the rest; producing a sublime athletic finish in the corner. Johnson nailed the touchline conversion. 6-0.

The Bulldogs, in their attempts to slow Cronulla’s ruck down, conceded several set restarts during the opening twenty minutes. Their defensive intensity was reasonably good but in terms of contact, they were struggling to contain the Sharks’ pack. They eventually enjoyed some field position of their own following some stubborn defence and Bulldogs halfback Kieran Foran nearly managed to dummy and step his way through but was stopped just short.

The Bulldogs hit back on 28 minutes as fullback William Hopoate, who had already made an excellent start to the game, hit a brilliant line off a disguised pass to power his way over. The conversion attempt from Jake Averillo was successful. 6-6.

The game was developing into a hugely competitive, high-intensity battle as both forward packs applied consistent physicality, aggression and the disciplined ball control from both sides continued. It may be a bottom-of-the-table clash but the two sides were serving up a highly demanding encounter, very entertaining and intriguing for spectators.

During the final five minutes of the half, Cronulla had Nikora sin-binned for a professional foul. A tight, low-scoring but entertaining first half drew to a close. 6-6 at the interval. Cronulla dominated the opening twenty minutes but the Bulldogs were stubborn defensively and eventually ground their way back into the match. The second stanza was eagerly anticipated.

The Sharks made the stronger start to the second half and they were rewarded as Katoa completed his brace, producing a sensational take to catch Shaun Johnson’s bullet pass on his heels in wet conditions as Cronulla regained the lead. The pick-up was described by Commentator Gus Gould as possibly the best he had ever seen. Johnson added the extras, handing the hosts a 12-6 lead.

Canterbury failed to make the extra man count and during the 51st minute, their halfback Brandon Wakeham’s late contact on Josh Dugan was deemed cheap and unnecessary and was sent to the sin-bin. From the ensuing penalty, the on-fire Katoa completed the first hat-trick of his career, a trademark perfectly-weighted short-range Shaun Johnson kick found the Winger virtually unmarked and he was able to finish. Cronulla’s execution was improving, and it was now a long way back for the 12-man Bulldogs.

However, in a game that continued to entertain, the resilient Bulldogs scored against the run of play during their first set inside Cronulla’s half of the second half. Loose forward Adam Elliot displayed some real class, producing a well-weighted grubber kick and halfback Foran timed his run and the former New Zealand international had enough pace to beat any Sharks defender to the ball to touch down. Averillo converted with ease and out of nothing it was a 4-point ball game. 16-12.

During the Sharks’ first meaningful attacking set following yet another set restart, a magnificent kick from Townsend, who displayed a combination of vision and accurate execution, found experienced three-quarter Bryson Goodwin who was able to take the kick in and touch down. Johnson missed a tricky conversion. 20-12 with ten minutes of the match remaining.

Bulldogs Winger Jake Averillo produced an outstanding burst of pace to score a long-range try and give his side some last-gasp hope but it was unfortunately disallowed having gone upstairs to the bunker for an off-the-ball collision that was deemed to have prevented Cronulla fullback Dugan from getting to a loose ball prior to Marshall-King setting Averillo away.

However, the neutrals were granted their grand-stand finish after all as the other Bulldogs winger Christian Crichton intercepted Shaun Johnson’s attempted cut-out pass a minute later and he had the speed to go the length of the field. Averillo produced a beautiful conversion to get the Bulldogs within two points of the hosts. 20-18. 

Cronulla managed to hold on and just about close the game out at the expense of the plucky visitors. It was an entertaining, closely-fought clash and the Sharks were relieved to get over the line and seal a narrow 20-18 victory.

What’s up next?

Next up the Sharks travel to Manly who have just recorded a memorable 6-14 away-day victory at high-flying Canberra and the Bulldogs host the inconsistent Wests Tigers who won this weekend by 36 points to 20 at home to the North Queensland Cowboys.

The Dogs will be gutted at losing having played reasonably well but if they emulate or even manage to improve their performance from today, Wests at home is a winnable fixture.